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Bad Timing: Israel Allows Oil Exploration in Golan

Akiva Eldar writes that the decision to allow a US energy company to explore for oil in the Golan is not meant to antagonize President Obama in advance of his visit to Israel, but a sign that Israel considers the Golan an integral part of the state.
Labourers reinforce the fence near Israel's border with Syria in the Golan Heights February 14, 2013. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed the territory in 1981, a move not recognised internationally. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (POLITICS) - RTR3DSEM
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Ever since the start of Syria’s civil war, President Bashar al-Assad has tried to paint the revolt against his regime in the blue-and-white hues of Israel’s flag. In the very first days of the uprising, he sent young Palestinians to storm the border fence on the Golan Heights. Last month Israel was linked to the bombing of a weapons convoy making its way from the outskirts of Damascus to the Lebanese border. While strategists in Jerusalem continue to discuss ways to thwart the smuggling of long-range missiles to Hezbollah, last Saturday the IDF transferred seven wounded Syrians who showed up at the border to an Israeli hospital for treatment. Ostensibly, Israel has absolutely no interest in helping Assad draw attention from the massacre he is conducting against his own people to focus on the larger Arab-Israeli conflict.

Ostensibly, it would seem obvious that with eyes of the world focused on the nuclear talks with Iran in Kazakhstan, Israel has no interest in drawing international attention to itself. Ostensibly, it would seem apparent that just a few weeks before the visit of President Barack Obama, Israel’s most important strategic ally, to Jerusalem, Israel should avoid taking provocative steps that run counter to American policy. Last week the State Department announced that it already investigates Israel’s petroleum exploration efforts in the Golan Heights. It stands to reason that the release of the official tender was not appreciated by Washington, especially when the President is attempting to promote the Arab peace initiative, based on Israel’s withdrawal from all territory it captured in 1967 [West Bank and the Gaza strip] in exchange for normal relations with the Arab League. At this point it is hard to imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Bashar Assad, but a resounding slap in the face is hardly a choice alternative.

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